Black History Month (and Beyond) Books for Kids – Part 4

February 27, 2020

It’s the last week of February and time for the last installment of the MelaninMindscape Minis Collection (for now). Here we go…

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.

My oldest son is a budding artist, so this book speaks to him. He loves abstract art and Basquait inspires him to just do what he feels and not be so concerned with it being perfect.

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins

Hey black child,
Do you know who you are?
Who really are?Do you know you can be
What you want to be
If you try to be
What you can be?

This lyrical, empowering poem celebrates black children and seeks to inspire all young people to dream big and achieve their goals.

This is one of our favorite short reads. It’s very simple and straight to the point. You can be and do whatever you want to be and do. And the illustrations are beautiful and lively. If you need some quick encouragement for your child, this is it.

Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes Pitts

Jake Makes a World follows the creative adventures of the young Jacob Lawrence as he finds inspiration in the vibrant colors and characters of his community in Harlem. From his mother’s apartment, where he is surrounded by brightly colored walls with intricate patterns; to the streets full of familiar and not-so-familiar faces, sounds, rhythms, and smells; to the art studio where he goes each day after school to transform his everyday world on an epic scale, Jake takes readers on an enchanting journey through the bustling sights and sounds of his neighborhood.

This is another favorite of my young artist. I like this one because of the history lesson about Jacob Lawrence and the beauty of Harlem. It’s also a lesson in being inspired and finding the beauty that surrounds us.

Crown: An Ode To The Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices. A fresh cut makes boys fly. This rhythmic, read-aloud title is a celebration of the way boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair.

I am a boy mom, and the barbershop is a part of my boys’ lives. This is truly a book where they can see themselves and their experiences. And it’s just a cool book. Period.

Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan

Long ago, Blackbird was voted the most beautiful bird in the forest. The other birds, who were colored red, yellow, blue, and green, were so envious that they begged Blackbird to paint their feathers with a touch of black so they could be beautiful too. Although Blackbird warns them that true beauty comes from within, the other birds persist and soon each is given a ring of black around their neck or a dot of black on their wings — markings that detail birds to this very day.

Coretta Scott King Award-winner Ashley Bryan’s adaptation of a tale from the Ila-speaking people of Zambia resonates both with rhythm and the tale’s universal meanings — appreciating one’s heritage and discovering the beauty within. His cut-paper artwork is a joy.

We fell in love with this story when we saw a performance of Beautiful Blackbird at the Alliance Theatre. It was so colorful and upbeat and the moral is heartwarming. There’s beauty within. Always.

I hope you enjoyed these Melanin Mindscape Minis book choices. There are so many great Black books for our kids and it’s important that they read them and see themselves. Representation matters in everything. Happy reading – to you and your young King and Queens.

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